'I want to serve them'
The Rev. John Lasuba lost his father and his five brothers to war in Sudan. He was separated from his two sisters when he moved to the United States in 2004.
Now, the priest has 22 new Sudanese families, all parishioners whom he ministers to at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Rochester.
"These people, most of them came (to Rochester) as refugees," Lasuba said. "(The Rev. Jerry Mahon) thought it's good to have someone for them who can work with them and help them. That's how I came here."
Lasuba has been in Rochester for almost five years. Before that, he lived in New Jersey for 9 months. And before that, he lived in southern Sudan.
"Sudan has a lot of issues," Lasuba said. "The war is only one thing."
Living in Juba, Sudan, Lasuba said he wasn't happy. The city was controlled by the government, and surrounded by Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). His brothers were living outside the city with the movement, so he went to join them.
"When the situation was not good for me, I went and joined the movement," he said. "That was my exile."
While living with with the SPLA, Lasuba said he administered the sacraments to the Christian community there. But with the threat of daily air attacks and the constant possibility of death, life was far from easy.
"I started working with them," he said. "But even there, life was very tough. ... By then, you have to experience the daily air bombardments, constant run, insecurity and risk of death at any time, hunger, diseases and many other issues that threaten life."
He lived with the SPLA for a couple of years, when he met up with a priest, who suggested moving to the U.S.
"He said, 'You can't keep being involved like that,'" Lasuba said. "So he helped me out."
Lasuba said he decided to join the seminary at a young age. In sixth grade, he decided he wanted to be a priest. The initial reason: He liked the priests' clothes.
"I thought, 'Oh, I want to dress like that,'" Lasuba said, laughing. " So when I finished sixth grade, I went to the seminary until I became a priest."
Now, he ministers at St. John the Evangelist to parishioners. And he specially helps the Sudanese people.
"These people ran to Egypt and other neighboring countries (to escape war)," Lasuba said. "When they came here, they underwent a lot. The language was an issue and the culture was an issue."
Lasuba used to celebrate four Arabic Masses per month. Now, he celebrates one Mass in Arabic at 4 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month.
"The idea is to get (the Sudanese people) integrated together with the main church," he said. "It works well."
And he said he will continue to do this, because the Sudanese families continue to grow. When he started at the parish, there were 85 Sudanese parishioners. Now, there are almost 110.
"There's that need," Lasuba said. "I want to serve them, and at the same time, serve the whole community."
--> Lasuba said the SPLA believes in a secular Sudan and liberation of the marginalized Sudanese areas. It also calls for the freedom of all Sudanese people, a belief he supports. Read about it in Saturday's print edition.